Friday, August 18, 2006

Yes, she's talking about used-book stores again

One day soon, I might grow tired of banging this particular drum, but today one of the author e-mail lists I subscribe to has been buzzing about the secondhand book market and how it "hurts" writers. "Save an author--buy a new book!" is the slogan some of my friends are hoping will catch on.

I've given this subject a lot of thought, and I've concluded that I like the idea that people are buying my books at yard sales and secondhand stores or swiping them from their hairdressers or their mothers-in-law. That's because I'm convinced that the failure of so many authors to make a decent living has nothing at all to do with their royalty-producing sales being undercut by the secondhand market or by people sharing books instead of buying their own copies. The greatest threat to authors is not the secondary book market, but obscurity.

The way I figure it, before people can start clamoring for my books, they must first learn my name. And the fastest, best way for people to learn my name is by seeing it everywhere. That's why I like used book stores. And why I love yard sales. And why I adore libraries. I like knowing my books are often found at those places. No, I don't make royalties off any book that is not purchased new, but I'm sure not going to squawk if you try to find yourself a bargain. I'm just grateful that you're giving me a chance to tell you a good story. I'm hoping you'll learn my name and then teach it to your friends by passing my books around. If you do that, you'll be helping to build my readership. And that'll thrill me because the larger my readership, the more "paying customers" I'm likely to have when my next book comes out.

Any author who lists "selling books" as her immediate goal isn't likely to be a big fan of the secondary book market. But I've set my sights on increased name recognition, so I'm grateful to used-book stores for helping me out. Yes, I'm as interested in making money as every other author out there, and in the long run, I honestly believe I will. Not in spite of the secondary market, but because of it.

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Gina Burgess said...

That's an incredibly SMART way of looking at it, Brenda. Not enough attention is paid to name recognition. Maxwell House figured they had the corner secured in the coffee industry so slacked up on advertising, meanwhile Folger's spent lots of money on advertising and passed up Maxwell House in sales. MH had to spend hundreds of millions on advertising to just break even and still hasn't caught up with Folger's. Lesson learned. Not that authors should spend huge amounts on advertising... but, it doesn't hurt to devise innovative ways for name recognition (like our blog alliance).

~~Olivia said...

Hi Brenda, I just discovered your Blog. Great posts. You have some wonderful readers, too.

I agree. Name recognition goes a long way to repeat sales. I've certainly been guilty of buying backlist novels of an author from used book stores. But when there's a new release, I am first in line at B&N.

Chris said...

Just so you know, Brenda, your books can't be found in the Eugene, Ore., used book market. I've looked.

Folks are holding on to theirs around here, possibly re-re-rereading them or employing any of 102 secondary household uses for them.

Have a great weekend.

Kristin said...

My personal pet peeve is this circular market...authors making sure to buy other authors' work to support them. It just seems rather odd that authors worry so much about making sure their author friends sell books. I think it is more important to recommend that author to a friend, pass along their book once you are done with it, etc. Spread the word through grass roots efforts. Not everyone can afford to buy new books.

Like you said, Brenda, name recognition over sales.

There was a weird Yahoo authors' group discussion going on a week or so ago. One woman had tons and tons of books that she had read...some of which she kept in boxes...she refused to donate them anywhere b/c she said that she felt she should buy brand-new copies to donate in order to support the authors. In fact, she was considering *throwing out the books* she didn't want to keep or storing them in a storage unit.

*That* made NO sense to me! Throw out books rather than donate them b/c it would be unfair to the author???

Brenda Coulter said...

Gina, sweetheart, I just love it when you stop by and tell me I'm smart.

Olivia, thanks so much for checking out my blog and for taking the time to comment. Yes, my readers are wonderful. The comments on these posts usually make for better reading than the posts themselves.

Tell the truth, Chris. Have you listed your autographed copy on eBay yet?

You're right, Kristin. It doesn't make a lot of sense. For some reason, it's okay to resell or donate every other kind of product imaginable, from clothing to automobiles to oil paintings, but it's "wrong" to do that with books and audio CDs. Few people seem to get that the more books are available in the secondhand market, the more people will be exposed to and enjoy those books--which must, in turn, create a demand for more new books.

It may interest some of you to know that when I object to the quality or content of a book, I throw it away rather than donate or sell it because I don't want to help promote that author or work. I think that demonstrates just how convinced I am that the resale market is a boon to authors.

Michelle said...

I love used book stores. It's the only way I can get enough books to read and the only way I can get the older books that are no longer in print. I'm with you on the name recognition. Once I find an author / publishing house I like I look for older books by them. But, I'm also one of the first in line to pick up new books by those same authors / publishing houses.

Just my $.02.

Michelle's Writing Space

Brenda Coulter said...

Yeah. Here's a perfect example of how used-book purchases stimulate royalty-producing sales:

How I cheated Jennifer Crusie and why she should thank me for it

CHickey said...


Katrina Stonoff said...

I absolutely agree.

On a similar note, Janis Ian had an essay posted for a while (I couldn't find it last time I looked) about how she thought pirated music on the internet actually helped sell her albums, and the music industry threw a fit. So she called her own bluff: she started giving away music on her website. Thousands of people downloaded it for free. And her sales made a notable and shocking jump.

I suspect it works the same way for writers and books.

Brenda Coulter said...

Katrina, I hadn't heard that about Janis Ian, but I know many other recording artists have done that. It's certainly counterintuitive, giving music away in order to sell music. We know most people would rather get something for free than pay for it. But when a wide net is cast, it will scoop up at least a few paying customers. And as the total number of listeners grows, so will the number of buyers.

Yes, I think the secondhand book market works the same way.

Neal said...

One thing I've often wondered, Brenda. Do you make any money (directly or indirectly) when someone purchases your book from a remainder book store? I've always assumed you do, because the book has originally been purchased by a "new" book store, which has then failed to sell the book and sold on to a remainder store, so you must have made some money on the original purchase. But I've never been sure. Perhaps you only make money when the new book is purchased from the book store, rather than when the book store purchases it. (If you see what I mean)

Brenda Coulter said...

That's such a great question, Neal, that I answered it in today's post.

Jackie Castle said...

Used book stores call my name as loud as Starbucks does when I pass by. I can't help myself. I love the wide variety of books, and even more, the prices.

You are so right. When I find an author I love, I not only pass it on, tell others about it, but then I'm willing to go and pay full price for thier books. But there have been too many throw-aways for me to buy new on a consistant basis.

Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Brenda Coulter said...

Thanks for reading, Jackie, and for taking the time to comment.